Every time I post about social media, I get a predictable barrage of negative responses. Here are a few real ones:
“Stay the heck off Facebook. It is the devil.”
“So-called social media like Facebook and Twitter are the scourge of humanity.”
“Facebook destroys families.”
The merits of these assessments are open for debate. What is undeniable, however, is that internet publishing and content distribution depend heavily on the use of these social platforms. It’s the third largest referrer of traffic to this website. It used to be even bigger, before platforms like Facebook changed their algorithm so that the (checks stats) 19,358 people who follow our page often don’t even see our content unless we pay to promote it.
And now there’s deplatforming and shadowbanning — typically deployed against people who are insufficiently politically correct, who don’t bow and scrape to the prevailing and popular ideologies of our day. These practices have gotten so out of control that the White House actually set up a reporting form to let them know about violations — a form they’ve since had to close after receiving “thousands of responses.”
A couple weeks ago, 1P5 got the treatment from Facebook, which banned a link to this article, entitled: “Bishop Schneider: The Christian Faith Is the Only Valid and the Only God-Willed Religion.”
Why? Because of some vaguely asserted violation of “community standards”:
Everyone who tried to share the article got the same sort of error:
The content was apparently “reported as abusive.”
And when I tried to appeal this categorization, it said next to the little box where I could fill out my response that Facebook isn’t “able to view individual reports”.
In layman’s terms, that means, “You’re up the creek, bub. And we have no incentive to care.”
In our case, apparently enough people objected to the block, and some human at Facebook reinstated the post. Ironically, the controversy over the ban added another thousand shares to the article on Facebook. It actually garnered more attention for the piece.
No explanation was ever given to me as to why the content was removed, or why it was reinstated. It was all cold, distant, and arbitrary, a combination of reporting mechanisms, algorithms, and outsourced review labor to various centers around the world. And the real people involved face their own problems. “It is the most important job in Facebook,” says a woman interviewed for a BBC mini-documentary about the issue, “and it’s the worst. And nobody cares about it.” Reviewers of flagged posts are dealing with not just political content, but images and videos of pornography, violence, and self-harm. The latter category allegedly led at least one Facebook content-reviewer to kill himself.
On the receiving end, the powerlessness one feels when an automated platform shuts out your content is profound. As a content-creator, social media deplatforming doesn’t even make it possible to talk to another human being about why you can’t share your work with your painstakingly cultivated online audience.
Advocates make it sound as though this deplatforming is happening only to people with extreme views, like neo-Nazis and racial supremacists (white ones, obviously; the other kinds of racial supremacism are A-OK.) But that isn’t really true. There is a spectrum of political and religious conservatives who run afoul of today’s thought police, with conservative comedian and pundit Steven Crowder being a notable recent example. In his case, his YouTube channel was just “demonetized” — basically, he can’t make any money from ads despite getting millions of views — until he stops linking to a t-shirt he sells that bears the phrase “Socialism Is for Fags.” Among other perhaps not yet defined hoops he needs to jump through.
In other words: “You will say what we want you to say how we want you to say it or we’ll wipe out your ability to make a living.”
And they have the unilateral power to do it.
Yesterday, I read that Pinterest (an image-collecting social platform that boasts 300 million users) has now permanently banned Live Action, the pro-life group headed up by Lila Rose. According to the Catholic News Agency (CNA), this happened “just days after a whistleblower revealed documents that purport to show active suppression of pro-life and Christian content by Pinterest.” The reason? “Because its content went against our policies on misinformation.”
Misinformation? You mean that babies are human beings and science agrees? That kind of “misinformation”?
According to the CNA report, in a message received by Live Action from Pinterest, the platform said it doesn’t “allow advice on Pinterest that may have immediate and detrimental effects on a Pinner’s health or on public safety.” And yet:
Despite Live Action’s suspension for purported “immediate and detrimental” health effects of their pro-life materials, pins linking to websites that offered “20 Best Ways to Induce a Miscarriage Naturally at Home” were still active and available on Pinterest June 13.
Before Live Action’s total ban, documents released Tuesday by former software engineer-turned whistleblower Eric Cochran show that Live Action was intentionally marked as a “pornographic” site, thus suppressing users’ ability to link to LiveAction.org’s content.
The documents also allege that Pinterest employees labeled Christianity-related terms like “christian easter” and “bible verses” as “sensitive” search terms, meaning those terms would not show up in autocomplete search results on the site.
Cochran released the documents via the activist group Project Veritas, and says he was subsequently fired from his job at Pinterest.
“Because ‘LiveAction.org’ was added to the list of pornographic sites, the [whistleblower] showed that users cannot create pins that link to ‘LiveAction.org.’ Live Action has received complaints from supporters over the last few months that they have had difficulty pinning content from ‘LiveAction.org,’” Live Action said in a June 11 statement.
“After testing the website, Live Action was unable to create pins from our own website but was able to create pins to other pro-life websites and create pins to pro-abortion websites like Planned Parenthood.”
This handful of stories is just the tip of the iceberg. The problem is growing. And while proposed alternatives pop up here and there, none has the investment capital or the user base of the major platforms.
This is the world we live in today. The internet is an increasingly challenging place for Christians to exist and work unhindered, but it’s absolutely essential that we keep doing so. Bishop Athanasius Schneider once commented, “Only on the Internet can you spread your own ideas. Thanks be to God the Internet exists.” He has certainly made good use of it. On another occasion, when commenting on the Family Synod, he said again, “I was pleased to see that some Catholic journalists and internet bloggers behaved as good soldiers of Christ and drew attention to this clerical agenda of undermining the perennial teaching of Our Lord.”
We can’t abandon the field, but we have to recognize that the rug can get pulled out from under us at any moment.
With all of this in mind, I strongly suggest that our audience consider signing up for our mailing list, just in case. We currently have only 8,000 subscribers, which is less than 25% of our audience on just Facebook and Twitter alone. The list comes in three flavors: a daily digest of stories, a weekly digest, and no digest or regular communications at all. I added that last one because I know people get too many emails (I do too) and don’t want to be bombarded, but still want to be able to stay in touch when something important happens. If you want to get on the list, you can do so here. You can also always find the option to subscribe on our top menu bar, under “subscribe”:
You never know when the next obstacle will arise. Just today, in fact, I’m being accused of “hate speech” on Twitter (where I’ve been suspended twice before) for saying I don’t want the rainbow flag–touting companies in my feed or my inbox and that I’m marking the ones I see as spam.
Unless something changes, it’s only a matter of time before pretty much all of us are prohibited from saying anything true anymore. So we’ve got to be creative about how we work both in and around the system. Chesterton had it right: “The act of defending any of the cardinal virtues has today all the exhilaration of a vice.”
This post has been updated to include more information about the people who review Facebook content.
Steve Skojec is the Founding Publisher and Executive Director of OnePeterFive.com. He received his BA in Communications and Theology from Franciscan University of Steubenville in 2001. His commentary has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Washington Times, Crisis Magazine, EWTN, Huffington Post Live, The Fox News Channel, Foreign Policy, and the BBC. Steve and his wife Jamie have seven children.